Autopilot is the opposite of Mindfulness

I’m reading a book about Mindfulness.  I’m expecting that I’ll discover principles that I like and principles that maybe I’m not so keen about!

One of the first points it makes is that Mindfulness (paying attention with a focused mind in the present moment) is the opposite of working on Autopilot.  And I do like that.

Autopilot is the opposite of mindfulness: it’s a state of mind disengaged from the present and stuck in habits formed long ago. Letting go of our automatic behaviour enables us to escape the pull of the past and offers us a better chance of happiness.

Autopilot enables us to carry out basic functions in life – getting dressed, walking, going upstairs – without taking up all our attention. It helps us to learn complex new skills, such as driving a car or touch typing. Once we apply ourselves to learning, the skill starts to become automatic – for example, you drive to a destination remembering almost nothing about your journey. This is often desirable because it frees the mind to move on to other things that require conscious attention. However, Autopilot can also work against us, particularly in the ways we process our emotional lives. We often reflect on how we felt, or feel about past experiences and try to apply our conclusions to attain happier outcomes in the future. The problem occurs when we repeat this process automatically, offering the same emotional reactions to similar situations, even though the outcome last time was far from ideal.

When we are on autopilot, the mind steals its reactions from the past. We don’t realise when we are in auto mode, that we we have a wide range of options available. The truth is, there’s no need to be hurt by a situation just because it’s hurt us before.  

Consciously setting out to break established patterns by taking determined action is not necessarily the best way to overcome them; paradoxically, the patterns may be strengthened by such active resistance. What’s needed is a new, more mindful way of thinking. By training ourselves to live in the present moment. and relate to our experience with acceptance rather than judgement, we become more grounded and more nimble in our responses. Autopilot dissolves when mindfulness takes over.

If we live our inner lives on autopilot, we end up repeating our mistakes, experiencing the same crises over and over again, and failing to move on. Mindfulness brings our pattern of emotions into awareness, equipping us better to realise our potential.

auto vs engaged (2)

Taken from Practical Mindfulness, Dorling Kindersley UK.  9780241206546_z

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